Mail Services in the Vale of Belvoir

Michael Flinton

The “posts” laid down for the Tudor Royal Mail service did not really affect the vale, being confined to the Great North Road, through Grantham, Newark and Tuxford and so onwards with periodic local services to Nottingham, when the route was from Newark along the Fosse to east Stoke, diverting along the foot of the old river cliff to Hazelford Ferry, across the river then via the higher (and drier) ground around Hoveringham and Caythorpe to Lowdham, again along the foot of the old river cliff to Gedling, Carlton and into the city via Barker Gate. Most of the Fosse south of the river was not used for this purpose, from which one may suppose that whilst on the northern side of the Trent was Southwell, with ecclesiastical correspondence, the south side was not worth bothering about.
By 1637, the date of John Taylor’s ‘Carriers Cosmography’, it is clear from his listings of names and companies that there was a widespread and interlocking system of common carriers across the country. Taylor also listed an unofficial footpost every second Thursday from Nottingham to London, but there is no indication whether the (presumably) postman walked via Newark and the Great North Road or along the Grantham Road. Newark was the most important post town in the county, Nottingham was only a branch office.
Nottingham became a Head post Office in 1675, and soon after ‘undertakers’ began to farm and develop those mail services not on the old post roads. By 1690 the Nottingham – London route, according to John Ogilvy, was via Bedford, Kettering, Uppingham and Melton, keeping off the North Road but avoiding the Vale by following more or less the route of the current Nottingham – Melton road, running three times a week, and the Nottingham to Newark service ceased. Is it reasonable to suppose there was still no postal market to be served here ? Gardiner’s survey of 1677 had a horse post branch from the Chester Road at Towcester through Northampton, Harborough, Leicester and Loughborough to Derby.
By the turn of the 17th Century the hosiery trades were becoming established in and around the immediate vicinity of Nottingham and in 1736 Ralph Allen established a cross posy between Nottingham and Derby, three days a week, leaving derby at 6.00 am and returning the same evening. This is 116 years after the first by-post to Nottingham from Newark on the Great North Road, and 46 years after the start of the three times a week service through Melton and Sheffield. This seems to point to the very slow growth of economic activity in Nottingham and perhaps the London service through Melton was really aiming at Sheffield, Nottingham merely being a stop on the way.
By the middle of the 18th Century the ducal houses were becoming established in Sherwood Forest, with consequent postal activity and links to Mansfield, Worksop and the Great North Road at Tuxford. It s not yet clear whether anything like this arose from Belvoir castle and although large land holdings were being built up in the Vale the impression remains that it was a good place to come from, rather than go to.
On the 23rd August 1784 the first mail coach ran between Nottingham and London, still via Melton, leaving London at 6.00 pm arriving in Nottingham at 6.00 pm the following day. Remember this was over what we would now call unmade roads. Coal, textiles and canals were all spreading between Mansfield, Nottingham, the Erewash valley, Derby and Leicester. In 1785 the London mail coach was speeded up, leaving London at 8.00 pm, arriving in Nottingham at midday the next day. Can you imagine trying to sleep in a small swaying wooden box, slung on two leather straps, drawn by horses trotting along unmade roads ? People were a hardier breed in those days.
Nottingham became a Post town in 1786, perhaps earlier, and by the following year coaches were passing through to Halifax, Clitheroe (why ?), and Leeds, going into the city via Hollowstone, High Pavement, Weekday Cross, Middle Pavement, Bridlesmithgate to the High Street, which was the centre of all the activity. Where was the Vale of Belvoir in all this ? Nowhere – although the great network of carriers still operated, enlarged, spread everywhere and was a far more efficient and cheaper carrier of letters and news than the General Post Office.
In 1790 W Marshall in “Rural Economy of the Midland Counties” wrote :- “The part I saw of (the road) between Trent Bridge and Bunny Hill may without prejudice be deemed one of the worst roads in the kingdom. The steeps torn into inequalities, strewn with loose stones and set with fixed ones, in true breakneck crash carriage style, and the levels loaded with mud up to the footlocks.”
At last the world began to wake up. Enclosures were being carried out throughout south Nottinghamshire, and in 1791 there was again a cross post from Nottingham to Newark, this time going via Bingham. Does this mean the old Fosse had at last been re-surfaced ?
In Nottingham the High Street was beginning to be busy. The North Mail left for Leeds at 3.00 daily and arrived from there at 9.30 every morning. The North Mail via Newark left daily at 5.00 in the morning and arrived from there at 5.00 in the afternoon. The mail for Birmingham left every afternoon at 5.00 and arrived from there every night at 11.00. The London mail set out every morning except Saturday at 10.00 from the White Lion in Clumber Street, and arrived from there at 2.30 every day except Monday, fare £2.12.6 or 2½ guineas.
Bingham, a receiving office only, had its own stamp by 1795, but an enterprising postmaster organised his own private delivery service to thirty two villages at 1d. a mile. However Tuxford had had its own stamp in 1709, Worksop in 1718, and Ollerton in 1782, so Bingham was lagging behind somewhat. Nevertheless things were definitely looking up.
In the normal course of events not many families bother to keep their everyday correspondence, but now land had been enclosed in relatively small parcels it could be identified, sold and bought quite easily, and lawyers being lawyers, the greatest amount of surviving correspondence is of a legal nature. At this stage there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of hosiery/textiles outworking in the Vale (someone will put me right on this) but agriculturally new crop varieties were coming into use, mechanisation was beginning to arrive, land use was becoming more efficient and field drainage schemes were being put in by the major land owners. In fact more activity all round, and more trade for the carriers to meet.
The contrast with the world of private enterprise could not have been more marked. In 1814 no less than 127 carriers’ routes were listed with pick-up points in Nottingham, ranging from one man-one horse operations to major national companies. Barnes and Ashmore went to Birmingham from the Milton’s Head. Gear, Wilson and Co also went to Birmingham, Ashby and Tamworth on one direction, and to Grantham, Newark, Sleaford, Boston, Lincoln and Hull in the other. W and J Pettifor would take you to Leicester, Harborough, Stamford, Cambridge, and Norwich, and also to Coventry, Warwick and Bristol. You could go to London and all parts of Southern England with W Parkins from the Milton’s Head, or with Deacon and Co. In addition to the southern parts of England, Acton and Co would also take you to Sheffield, Barnsley, Wakefield and Leeds, whilst Eyre and Pettifors would take you to Doncaster, York and all parts of the north of England and Scotland. Note only Gear, Wilson and Co of these national firms offered the possibility of a route along the Grantham Road.
Of the local carriers eleven or so would have made some use of the Grantham Road :-
Mr Wetherill to Aslockton from the Swan
Mr Baxter to Bingham from the Black Boy
W Jackson to Bingham from the Queen’s Head
W Farnley to Bottesford from the Derby Arms
G Wilson to Bottesford from the George and Dragon
and J Wilson to Bottesford also from the George and Dragon
R and J Silcock to Hose from the May Pole
S Freer to Orston from the Horse and Groom
T Pennington to Plungar from the May Pole
J Parr to Redmile from the May Pole
J Hitchcock to Scarrington from the Wheatsheaf
H Parnham to Whatton from the Queen’s Head

Along the Fosse were, amongst others :-
J Baker to Car Colston from the Wheatsheaf
J Brown to East Bridgeford from the Durham Ox
Mr Whyley to East Bridgeford from the Bell
W Parrett to East Bridgeford from the Swan
Mr Hodgkinson to Flintham from the Crown
and R Dixon operated the mail gig from the Durham Ox at the corner of Pelham Street and Clumber Street to Newark.
In 1825 the route of the mail coach from Nottingham to London was altered again to go via Loughborough and Leicester to Harborough and Dunstable, and it was advertised as leaving every afternoon at 5.30, arriving at the Bull and Mouth in London at 11.30 next morning, lighted and guarded. These two latter items are worth noting, we must not forget that not only were most roads still unsurfaced (the improvements of Telford and Macadam had only been done to the main post roads) but they were unlit and of course used by everyone for every purpose, so it was not unusual to meet flocks of sheep or herds of cows being moved from field to field, or being walked to market, as indeed it still was fifty years ago. A letter I have shows that monetary bills drawn on Banks were sent through the post in two separate halves, for anti-theft security reasons, and presumably both halves were required for presentation before the Banks would authorise payment.
Pigot and Co’s series of National Commercial Directories appeared in 1828/29 and gave general information about the shire as a whole :- “The productions of this county are coals, lead, wool, cattle, fowls, abundance of fresh-water fish, liquorice, grains of all sorts, hops and weld.” Most of this is reasonable, wild hops can still be found in local hedgerows between Aslockton, Whatton and Orston, liquorice (as in Pontefract Cakes, bootlaces and All Sorts) revelled in the soft deep black soils of the warp lands in the north of the county, but of weld, presumably grown as a dye plant I have found no traces nor can I account for lead as a ‘production of this county’. No doubt someone will be able to put me right on this also. The population in round figures had grown from 65,200 in 1700 to 190,700 in 1821, so even though there had been a threefold increase, a very thinly populated county in 1700 still had plenty of wide open spaces.
The towns were listed as Bingham, Blythe, Mansfield, Newark, Nottingham, Ollerton, Retford, Southwell, Tuxford and Worksop, and Bingham was ‘about a mile distant from the turn-pike road, which was the ancient Roman Fosse Way.’ No mention whatsoever of the Grantham Road.
Coaches other than the Royal Mail coaches ran on national services through Nottingham – from York to London via Melton, Oakham and Uppingham; from Leeds “The Times”, the “Comet”, the “Courier”, the “Royal Hope” (of snowstorm fame), and the “Express” to London via Loughborough, Leicester, Northampton and St Albans; to Birmingham the “Amity”, the “Royal Dart” via Castle Donnington, Ashby and Tamworth; as well as others to Derby, Mansfield, Doncaster, Gainsborough and Manchester. Of particular interest was the “Granby” going three times a week from the Black Boy through Bingham to Grantham; the “Imperial” daily to Hull from the Lion via Bingham, Newark and Lincoln; and the “Accommodation” to Lincoln from the Black’s Head via Bingham and Newark.
If not exactly a honeypot for Saturday night raves, Bingham did have some social attractions for the surrounding villages. There were three fairs during the year – the Tuesday and Wednesday before the 13th February, for horses; Thursday in Whitsun Week a holiday; and November 8th and 9th for pigs. There was a stallion show on Easter Thursday, and a large statute fair for hiring servants generally the last Thursday in October. The Vale of Belvoir was still very rural.
The Post Office was in Church Street. The mail gig for Newark, with the letters for York, left Nottingham at 5.00 in the morning, reached Bingham at half past six, arriving in Newark at 8.00. It returned from Newark at half past ten, reaching Bingham at a quarter past noon when the mail was dropped off, leaving immediately for Nottingham which was reached at half past one.
In 1830 some local enterprising Lancashire postmasters arranged for their mail to be carried on the new steam railway from Manchester to Liverpool. The world was changing. The response of the General Post Office, which must have been foregoing a lot of income to the carriers and the stage coaches, was to start in 1833 a second class mail coach service from Nottingham to Grantham, carrying four passengers but with only two horses. Ah well !
�2008 – Michael Flinton